I just returned from a visit to New Orleans and came home with a blog’s-worth load of tales to tell. It wasn’t my first visit to the home of the Saints (and sinners!) – I have been there many times – but it was the first time since starting this blog. As we all know, New Orleans is synonymous with imaginative food and imaginative fun. It is a city blessed with a bevy of natural attractions and a unique culture. Unfortunately, New Orleans also has an abundance of sordidness.
Is “The Big Easy” really “The Big Sleazy?” In some ways, yes, absolutely; at least in most tourist areas. Walk down any street in the famous French Quarter and you’ll be treated to fine eateries, distinctive shops, and of course those celebrated drinking establishments. Three-hour lunch at Galatoires? Check. Antiques on Royal Street? Check. Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s? Check, check.
Sadly, you’ll also be subjected to everything and anything related to sleaze and smut…whether or not you want to be. You can’t run from it in the French Quarter and you can’t hide from it. Gaze up and you’ll find the city’s instantly recognizable distinctive lace-work balconies and legendary lanterns. Look down, however, and you’ll see things you probably don’t care to see…ever. Yes, I get it, it’s all part of the “Nawlins” experience, but why? In my humble opinion, that kind of stuff should be found in cities that don’t have as much historical and epicurean appeal as New Orleans.
It’s a little disturbing to walk out of a celebrated restaurant that requires jackets on men, only to run right into a strip club that’s not hiding much from the innocent passerby. I do love Brennan’s Bananas Foster, Café Du Monde’s beignets and Drago’s oysters, but I would like them a lot more in a city that knows how to clean itself up. Don’t get me wrong, I like New Orleans. It just saddens me that a city would choose to be so, well, shady in so many ways. Even New York City cleaned up it’s act.
Most people I talked to agree and say that New Orleans, much like Las Vegas, is one of those cities you’re usually ready to leave, unlike say a tropical island. Those same people also feel New Orleans needs to stop with the Katrina stuff. Enough. It was horrible but it was also so long ago. I’m not being insensitive; I’m only repeating what I heard over and over again. Maybe I just don’t get that part either. What I do know is New Orleans has somewhat recovered from that devastating hurricane, so perhaps it’s time for the Crescent City to take a cue from Sin City and reinvent itself. Maybe, just maybe, what happened to Vegas could happen to New Orleans? Could the Big Easy turn into the Big Cheesy?!
What I loved about New Orleans were the many locals who were just down-right nice. I love their accents and could listen to them all day and all night. Cab drivers, the doormen at our hotel, waiters, a restaurant owner, our Swamp Tour guide Allen, and even the dread-locked bartender at Bubba Gump’s. They all bent over backwards to welcome us to their beloved town and couldn’t thank us enough for visiting. They’ve got it down and they made my visit memorable.
I also loved the famous Carousel Bar and Lounge at our hotel, Hotel Monteleone. The street-front bar actually rotates and the lounge harkens back to days gone by, where the clientele dressed up, acted respectfully, but still had fun…crazy fun! I loved the hotel itself too and would stay there again in a heartbeat. (unless of course they keep denying the hair straightener I know I left in our bathroom was not found! That, is really annoying me!)
Two other things that stand out are the Swamp Tour our group took and the dance contest I stumbled upon one day in the French Market. Boarding the small air boat in pouring rain, we nonetheless had the ride of our lives as we meandered through hanging moss and Cypress trees to catch many glimpses of alligators, raccoons, and even Bald Eagles. And the dancers; oh the dancers. Moseying solo through the French Market, I came upon a dance contest…not just any dance contest, but a jam-packed, highly-competitive, down-home, died-in-the-wool, Cajun style jitterbug/swing/stomp dance-a-thon. It was both entertaining and mesmerizing and I stood there and watched for minutes on end. I could have stayed all day.
These are the things that make New Orleans what it is. So why, the sleaze? Why the smut? It is so unnecessary and distracts from what is truly special about a truly special place. A place blessed with a treasured past and a place ready for an exciting future that includes not only annual Mardi Gras festivities, but this season’s Super Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and NCAA Final Four. It’s enough to make any metropolitan area cry with envy. But envy is not what I left with.
As the cab pulled away from our hotel to take us to the airport, I glanced across the street to a spot where every day and every night a rag top band of sometimes talented vagrants played music. That day it was two men, but I couldn’t help but notice the woman sitting on the ground next to them just listening. On her lap was a five-or-six-year-old little girl who was clearly exhausted and wanting to be anywhere else but there. I thought to myself and actually said out loud to our friends in the cab that I wondered if we offered that woman money if she would hand over her little girl. I would give her a long, hot, relaxing bath then tuck her in a warm bed and let her sleep until she woke up. A home and a school is what that little girl needs. Jokingly I said I’d also have her saying “Boomer Sooner” within a week, but in all seriousness, I’m still thinking about that little girl and hoping she’s okay. I’m not sure how easy that will be for her though on the streets of The Big Easy. Here’s hoping the saints are watching over her.